Saturday, November 29, 2014

I slew (slayed? Have slain? All that!) 50k words!

For the first time since I signed up at (National Novel Writing Month) seven years ago, I succeeded in writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. And it's only November 29th.

As of Tuesday, November 18th, I needed to write 2400 words per day to meet the goal. By last Saturday, November 22nd, that per day word count had eked its way up to more like 3000. I started to lose hope because I knew we would be traveling for Thanksgiving in just a couple days and I didn't want to travel with a laptop.

But such things as pen and paper exist and a three hour flight is a good opportunity to catch up on writing. I nearly met my goal on that travel day and knowing I could write that much by hand inspired me to keep going. And simply keeping going inspired me to meet my word count goals every day. Then getting so close to finishing inspired me to just finish. Having a supportive husband and in-laws helped. "No, we can't bother Stina--she's writing!" I'm thankful for that this Thanksgiving weekend.

There will be a lengthy editing process before what I wrote will be released for the general public, but I'm committed to doing that and sharing what I've been working on this month. I don't just write for myself, and for that reason I'm going to share the prologue and first chapter of my first novel at the end of this post.

I wrote The Good Message of the Hand Dryer in the spring of 2010 and edited it the following year. Ever since then, it's just been waiting for me to do something with it. I'd like to share it with the world, so I'm going to see about publishing it online. Until I do so, here's a bit to get you started:


Eleven was born on the eleventh of January. Her parents had been told by more than one expert that the baby was most certainly a boy, but after a 17 hour labor, it most certainly wasn't. Hank and Rebecca were exhausted and didn't know what to call her, so they flipped a coin over January or Eleven. Tails won, and Grandma Rose's name worked as well for a middle name as Grandpa Henry's would have. With that, Eleven Rose Wunsch joined the world.

Eleven's ten year old brother, Joe, had high hopes riding on the baby being a boy. He was going to teach his little brother everything he knew, and then some. He couldn't get over his disappointment, so he ignored his little sister for the next eight years, then went off to college and ignored her some more.


The summer before Joe left for college, the family took a road trip from San Diego up the coast and she annoyed him the whole way. By the end of the trip she realized the way to get close to him was not by annoying him, but by pretending to sleep leaning on his shoulder. They arrived home and she stayed there, fake-sleeping on his shoulder.

“I can't get out,” he whispered to their parents. She kept herself from smiling, though she was ecstatic. It was the longest amount of time she'd ever been this close to him, where she could smell his aftershave (it was overwhelming and gave her a headache), his deodorant (likewise) and his hair gel (triple whammy).

If only she'd figured this out sooner. How many hours could she have pretended to sleep on him, secretly reading whatever he was reading, listening to his phone conversations and music, feeling his shirt sleeve under her head? He flew to New York the next day with Dad and she stayed home with Mom.


The next year they took another road trip. Her brother got an internship at a law office in New York, so he didn't join them. They went from San Diego to Yuma, Yuma to Phoenix, Phoenix to Tucson, Tucson to Las Cruces, and from Las Cruces to Carlsbad to see the bats. Somewhere along the way between Phoenix and Tucson, everyone had to pee. They saw a sign for a gas station and took that exit. Eleven was excited because she saw signs for “Live Rattlesnakes!” and “Feed a Rattlesnake!” She'd never fed a rattlesnake before.

The toilets were on the outside of the gas station, a single one for women and a single one for men. Eleven's mom got the key and let her go first. When she was done, she washed her hands with soap, singing her ABCs as she scrubbed. Then she went to dry her hands. There was a hand dryer and there were paper towels. Eleven strictly used hand dryers or nothing at all when they weren't available. She pressed the button and started reciting what she liked to call The Good Message of the Hand Dryer.

“Dryers help protect the environment. They save trees from being used for paper towels. They eliminate paper towel waste. They are more sanitary to use than paper towels and help maintain cleaner facilities.”

She read it off the dryer first, then closed her eyes and said it from memory. She got the whole thing right in one try. Just before the dryer automatically shut off, she thought she heard a sound coming from it. Her hands weren't quite dry, so she pressed it again. There was a knock on the door.

“Eleven, are you done? I really have to go!”

“Hold your horses, Mom!”

She was listening to the hand dryer as she rubbed her hands together. There it was again. Music. She stopped rubbing her hands and moved her head closer. It was bagpipe music. She stepped back from the dryer and listened by the door. No, it was definitely coming from the dryer.


She opened the door for her mom.

“Mom, listen to this!”

The dryer had just turned off, so she pressed it again. Her mom rushed in, pulled her shorts down, and sat down on the toilet.

“Eleven, lock the door.”

“Do you hear it?”

“Lock the door, Eleven!”

Eleven stood like an Irish step-dancer and skipped over to the door and locked it. She continued skipping around the small bathroom.

“What are you doing, you little weirdo?” her mom asked.

“I'm dancing to the music!”

“What music?”

“The bagpipe music!”

“Ah. I see.”

Her mom finished, washed her hands at the sink, and grabbed a paper towel just as the dryer stopped again.

“Mom, nooooooooooooo!” Eleven marched over to the dryer and turned it on again. “Use this,” she said, pointing to the dryer.

“Oh, sorry. I forgot,” her mom said.

“And dance to the music!” Eleven started skipping around the bathroom again as her mom rubbed her hands under the dryer.

There was a knock on the door.

“You two about finished? Those rattlesnakes are getting hungry!” Eleven's dad said.

“To the rattlesnakes!” her mom said.

“To the rattlesnakes!” Eleven said.

Her mom opened the door and walked out, and Eleven followed her. Halfway through the door she stopped and turned around and bowed to the hand dryer.

“Thank you for the music.”


There were a bunch of snakes in a pit. A man poked a long stick with a red cloth tied to the end of it into the pile of writhing snakes, and several of them bit at the cloth. Then the man gave her a dead mouse to toss into the pit.

“Whoa,” she said and picked up the mouse by the tail.

“Brave little girl you got there, folks,” the man said to her parents as she tossed the mouse into the pit.

There was a frenzy of movement and then calm. Eleven could see that one snake had a lump inside it.


As they were passing the gas station on the way back to the freeway, Eleven asked if they could stop.

“Do you have to pee again?” her mom said.

“No, I just wanted to hear the music.”

“We can listen to the radio, honey.”

“I have to pee again!”

Eleven's mom turned around and looked at her with a very Mom look. “You just said you didn't have to pee. Do you or do you not have to pee?”

“No,” she said in a small voice.

“That's what I thought.” Her mom settled back into her seat.

Chapter One

Present Day

It was December. Eleven was at the store, ready to greet the next customer. It was before 4pm and after the lunch crowd and she was in a bad mood. During her lunch break, she had called the guy she was kind of dating and told him she couldn't see him right now. When he'd asked why, she'd said, “It's too busy at the store during the holidays.” He'd given up without a fight, though she knew it was a lame excuse. That meant he hadn't been too interested and that put her in a bad mood. A customer walked in.

“Hello! Welcome to Bea Arthur's. Let me know if there's anything I help you with.” She flashed a bright smile that she hoped looked sincere.

The customer smiled back and said, “Thanks, just looking.”

Eleven scanned the store. She headed to the children's section in the back first. Nobody there. Then she went over to the greeting cards and journals. An old woman was perusing the cards and had a small stack of items on the floor near her.

“Would you like me take these things up to the counter, Mrs. Holgott?”

“Oh, yes, thank you, Eleven.”

“My pleasure.”

She bent down and picked up three votive candles, a votive candle holder, and four cloth napkins. The red of the votives matched the holly design on the napkins.

“Is this a gift, Mrs. Holgott?”

“It is, for my granddaughter. She just bought a house, and I thought those would look nice in her dining room.”

“I'm sure they will. The candles match the napkins perfectly. Would you like me to gift wrap it for you?”

“Oh, yes, please. That would be wonderful. Could you do it in Christmas paper?”

“Of course. I'll have it ready and waiting for you whenever you're finished.”

Eleven smiled again, a real smile. She liked Mrs. Holgott. The woman came in nearly every day, often just to browse or pick up one little candy. She was nice, and patient.

As Eleven walked back to the counter, she looked around to see if anyone new had entered the store.

There was the same woman, Just Looking, but no one else. It was nice when it was this quiet. Bea would be back from her lunch break soon, in time for the after-work crowds.

Eleven pulled the price tags, then arranged the items neatly in a box with tissue paper. She took her time wrapping the gift, making the folds just so and losing herself a bit in the details. She imagined Mrs. Holgott's face when she saw the gift, then imagined Mrs. Holgott's granddaughter's face, and how she wouldn't want to open it because it looked so beautiful. The fantasy was building in her mind—the gift being passed unopened from generation to generation—when Eleven felt like someone was watching her. She looked up and saw Just Looking glancing her way, so she stepped out from behind the counter and approached her.

The woman pulled a washcloth from her purse. “Do you see this?”

Eleven looked at the washcloth. It was blue and looked used. “Yes, ma'am, I see the washcloth.”

“Well, do you see the spot?” The woman pointed to a corner of the washcloth.

Eleven looked closer. She thought she could make out a faint brown stain by the woman's finger. “I think I see a little stain.”

“Good. I'd like to exchange it for this one.” She picked up a dark blue washcloth.

Eleven took a deep breath. She hated customers like this. “Do you have a receipt for the washcloth, ma’am?”

“No, I don't have a receipt! I've never needed a receipt to exchange anything here before. Is Bea here?”

“She'll be back from her lunch break soon. I can help you, though. It's just that this washcloth is dirty and used, so you can't exchange it.”

Eleven tried to smile as if she understood the woman's problem, but it felt thin. She had no patience for this today.

The woman huffed. “I've never been treated this way here before. I want to talk to Bea right now.”

“By all means, let me interrupt her lunch break for your ever so important washcloth issue.”

Eleven smiled even bigger, then marched to the back of the store. As she passed Mrs. Holgott, she heard the woman humming along to the Celtic music playing over the speakers.

She stopped outside the office door, her fake smile crumbling from her face. She opened the door and peeked her head around and saw Bea sorting through the inventory pages from a recent order. She cleared her throat and Bea turned to look at her.

“What's wrong, Eleven?”

Eleven realized there were tears pooling in her eyes. “There's a customer who'd like to talk to you. She has a problem with a washcloth she says she bought here. I was kind of rude to her.”

Eleven's voice was trembling and she was having a hard time holding her mouth in a normal way. Her chin just wouldn't relax.

“Sit down here.” Bea got up and motioned to her chair. “I'll go and talk to her. I'm sure there's just a misunderstanding. I can't imagine your being rude to anyone.”

Bea walked out of the office and Eleven sat down and started crying. She'd never acted like that with a customer before. She was so sick of fake smiles and always having to be in a good mood and pandering to bitchy customers who treated her like it was her life's work to please them. She started crying harder and put her head down on the table in front of her. It was her life's work to please them and she hated it.

She took a couple sobbing breaths and sat up. She needed to pull it together. Just one unhappy woman facing another unhappy woman with unhappy results. Nothing to cry over. She got up and walked out of the office, checking to make sure the door was locked behind her. She turned to the right and into the small bathroom and locked herself in. She stood in front of the mirror.

No makeup on, so nothing for tears to smear. Her eyes were bloodshot, making the blue stand out in contrast. They were kind of puffy, too. She turned the cold water on, bent down, and splashed it onto her face.

She looked up at the water dripping off her face and snarled at herself. She was really good at lifting the left side of her lip, but couldn't lift the right side without taking her whole mouth with. She grabbed a paper towel and used it to dry off her face first, then her hands. She soaked the towel through but didn't take another.

She pulled the elastic off her ponytail and smoothed her long, light-brown hair back into a new ponytail. She took a deep breath and didn't smile. No more fake smiles. She turned off the light, opened the door, and headed back into the store.

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